But freedom for whom?
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has a confused ramble in today’s Independent, lamenting the fact that joining the European Union has decreased in popularity since 2002, when the figure was 70% in favour (by 2006, it was half that). It appears that it has been frustrated a few times too often, with various European politicians insisting that Turkey has no place in the EU. Alibhai-Brown sees the turn in attitudes of a betrayal of post-war European ideals:
Western Europe promised to confront its heart of darkness after the war and Holocaust. Zero tolerance against anti-Semitism was the ransom that had to be paid and was, rightly and properly. But other racisms have been allowed to grow and ancient enmities reawakened. Fresh hate victims have been found to fill the continent’s gaping pits. Black migrants are treated like vermin, including in those EU countries known for easy charm; Muslims have had to accept institutionalised prejudice and Turkey has been treated as an abject and alien supplicant who must be kept that way. An essentialist, Christian definition of Europe has been settled upon, arguably one of the most self destructive of EU ideologies.
In response, her educated and secularist friends in Turkey have turned towards “a new power bloc of India and some of the more enlightened Muslim states”; I am not sure which she means; perhaps a few repressive secular dictatorships like Tunisia or Azerbaijan, both even more repressive than Turkey currently is. However, as she points out, the AK party has shown better governance “because it wanted to impress Europe”, abolishing the death penalty, improving human rights and making moves to repeal Article 301, which criminalises “insulting the Turkish nation”. However:
The latest, failed attempt by the Turkish Constitutional court to undemocratically close down the AKP is another sign that the country is abandoning EU principles of politics and justice. Islamicisation is creeping in. Almost all the wives of government ministers are hijabed and “pious” homemakers. It frightens modern Turkish women who have had equal rights for longer than we have in the UK. I used to love meeting these sisters who were as deeply religious as I am but also strong secularists. These days they are depressed and angry.
There is a contradiction here. An Islamist government has other reasons to liberalise the political scene in Turkey besides impressing the European Union (even if they would not normally be keen to get rid of the death penalty). The status quo gives Alibhai-Brown’s “sisters” in Turkey the same rights they have anywhere else; meanwhile, unless they have the money to study abroad, religious Muslim women are denied a higher education, and unless they can start their own business or find people willing to employ them as they are (rather than demanding that they remove their head-coverings), their aspirations are limited to being the housewives Alibhai despises. This is how enforced secularism usually works — it excludes Muslim women.
The manner in which the Turkish state presently operates would appear to preclude inclusion in a union of democracies, but in fact several European countries have speech laws which, while not as repressive, and frequently used, as those in Turkey, still fall short of allowing free speech short of directly inciting a criminal offence or perpetuating outright falsehoods — probably, this standard of free speech exists nowhere in the EU. Ironically, the laws which forbid insulting “Turkishness”, “Ataturk” or other fundamentals of the modern Turkish republican ideology owe more to Shari’a, albeit with different people and institutions protected from insult, than it does to any current trend in modern Europe. People, including Muslims, are forbidden from saying so much as that they do not like Ataturk, who is on record as having insulted both Islam and the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam); people have been arrested for things like drawing attention to abuses by the police and army, particularly in the Kurdish areas.
The question must be asked what the Turkish secularising reforms are worth when Turkey is barred from entering the EU on flatly cultural and religious grounds. The country has changed its writing and legal systems to European-based ones and repressed its own religion, which always was what most distinguished it from Europe; yet when it came to the crunch, Europe as it had become told Turkey it was never going to be Europe, no matter what. Meanwhile, the country’s industrial output is not exactly the envy of the world (oh, they produce the Transit Connect now!) and it has not developed an intellectual centre to rival any in Europe. Besides making the country the fiefdom of a self-serving elite who despise most of the population, despite making it illegal to deny that it’s great to be a Turk, what was it all about?
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